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The Government's heart tsar has urged PCTs to use quality data to 'performance manage' GPs. Dr Roger Boyle insisted it was legitimate for trusts to use the data to audit the quality of GP care and 'investigate outliers'.

The GPC remains adamant that quality data cannot be used as a performance management tool. It warned PCTs to be 'very careful' in their use of the data.

But some GPs said trusts had already started barring low-scoring GPs from their professional executive committees or stopping them taking part in practice-based commissioning.

Dr Boyle told delegates at the British Cardiac Society conference in Manchester this week: 'PCTs have the right to know what's happening in individual practices. If you have a practice that's an outlier it's legitimate to investigate why. You can call it performance management if you like, but that's really what we ought to be doing isn't it?'

He added: 'For me the data is essential. GPs persist in saying that they are independent but they have to accept it's about quality.'

Dr David Fitzmaurice, professor of primary care at the University of Birmingham and a part-time GP, said PCTs had already started using quality data for performance management 'contrary to the rules of GMS2'.

He added: 'I would question whether the population approach was the best way forward for treating the individual patients we see in primary care. The data should just be used for audit purposes but we have seen it is being used for performance management.'

Dr Boyle stressed only a minority of practices would be pulled up for poor performance and that he had no evidence PCTs were being heavy-handed.

But Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, insisted it was a matter of principle. He said: 'It's not a performance management tool and it can't be used in that way. PCTs have to be very careful about how they use the data.'

Dr Stewart Findlay, a GP in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, said: 'I have heard of some PCTs that are saying you cannot be on the PEC unless you have performed well or take part in practice-based commissioning.'

By Emma Wilkinson

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